Worse than death may be knowing you will lose your mind, your sense of self, even your ability to care of your own personal needs. Individuals with Alzheimer’s Dementia can expect to experience this sense of powerlessness but everyone can retain their personal power through planning.
“Most people when they have signs of dementia they do the opposite of what they should do,” revealed Matt Schrum with Evergreen Estate Planning & Elder Law.
“Very rarely do I have someone who says, ‘the writings on the wall I should start planning. I should start getting my ducks in a row to pass this on to people that I trust’,” which is exactly what they should do according to Schrum.
In fact, everyone should have a plan according to Mountain Valley Hospice who offers regular opportunities help with a variety of legal documents.
An Advanced Directives Clinic takes place on the second Thursdays of each month at 10 a.m. at Hugh Chatham Hospital in Elkin and at 1:30 p.m. at the Wilkes county Public Library the second Thursdays of each month.
This clinic assists with Heathcare Power of Attorney, Living Will, Do Not Resuscitate and other legal forms which will assist with the long care planning process.
Being proactive with a plan can keep trouble away according to Schrum, especially in the case of Alzheimer’s Dementia.
“There’s so much that can be done both treatment wise and a lot of ideas for asset protection for people who the writing’s on the wall with long-term care,” alleged Schrum. “You can do a lot of stuff if you do it early enough.”
Unfortunately most people don’t seek out legal planning when they are worried about Alzheimer’s Dementia.
“Normally people have that reflex reaction when they show signs of memory loss,” claimed Schrum. “[They’re] going to fight it. Pretend it’s not happening. It’s human nature to act that way, bury your head in the sand, because it’s one of the number one approaches from what I’ve seen.”
“They ignore it [instead of start planning] because planning is a sign of showing that [they are] weak or something like that when it’s really not. People who are reluctant about giving up their independence because they don’t want to appoint a Power Of Attorney because they don’t want to give up any of their power are actually giving up more power by not planning.”
Schrum believes that understanding what happens to people who do not have a plan in place when they are no longer able to make their own decisions will make them realize how important it is.
“If you don’t do the Power Of Attorney or a trust or take care of anything then it’s up to the Clerk of Courts [to make decisions for you]. You may have never met, may not even know and they don’t know you,” described Schrum, “so you have strangers who are elected officials making choices about your life and they’re not always the choices you would want.”
A guardianship will be set up by the clerk for those who have no legal plan in place and are unable to make their own decisions due to Alzheimer’s Dementia or other causes.
“Guardianship proceedings strip individuals of their rights,” alleged Schrum, “the right to contact, the rights to make decisions about themselves. Guardianship is an extreme measure for people who haven’t done planning and it’s not pleasant.”
“It’s not a thing that you want to volunteer to do and if you have early onset and you don’t do planning,” claimed Schrum, “you’re kind of volunteering to have the clerk take over and have the state over you. You often have very limited options when you get to that point.”
“The opposite happens when you have a Power Of Attorney. You retain all of your rights and you sort of guard against guardianship. It prevents it because you already have a plan in place.”
This plan can be as simple as signing a legal document (Power of Attorney or POA) about who will be making decisions when the patient is no longer able to or it can be a detailed financial layout which includes how to pay for future needs.
“You’re looking for someone who handles their money well and their own decisions well,” advised Scrum when choosing a POA. ” Usually it’s a family member.”
Some people have multiple POAs depending on the skills of the individuals available.
“Sometimes someone has a CPA for a kid or someone who has a medical background and then they get that [part of the] task,” described Schrum. “In any case it’s always better to have someone that you just trust even if they don’t know how to balance a checkbook, but they’re still able to seek people out who can help them.”
Not planning at the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s Dementia can lead to problems that are more significant than losing one’s independence.
“The least thing you have to worry about is losing all your assets. There’s a lot of other physical and emotional abuse and things like that that I think I’m more serious than the money issues but the money issues alone are bad,” reminded Schrum.
“Some of the worst things I’ve ever seen a human being do, children have done to their parents,” lamented Schrum.
“Usually when someone is able to get away with the financial stuff then I think usually leads to other kinds of abuse. I’m not sure if the person then feels more entitled and gets a little more aggressive,” inferred Schrum, “or if it’s just because their finances are being depleted and there’s not the proper care in place or the proper ability to pay for things.”
“It’s kind of a two prong of detriment when it happens. The financials are usually the gateway of abuse and if you don’t find it and nip it in the bud it usually develops into something worse,” claimed Schrum.
The biggest way to prevent this from happening is to address the situation head on.
“When they see the first signs [of Alzheimer’s Dementia] is when they should really start having this conversation,” stated Schrum. “The earlier you address that the easier it is I think.”
“It’s like when your pre-planning funerals,” described Schrum. “It’s a lot easier when you don’t have six weeks to live. It’s not right in your face when you’re dealing with it, it’s sort of down the road in an abstract a little bit more. It’s just the sooner the better.”
With the current opioid crisis in the Yadkin Valley and beyond, planning is a good idea for everyone, not just Alzheimer’s Dementia patients.
“Some of the places I’ve seen bad stuff,” claimed Schrum who has only had one negative situation of all his clients since bringing his business to Elkin this past year.
“I’m hoping that I’m in the magical land of the Yadkin Valley,” joked Schrum, “seriously everyone here does seem way more caring and honest then some of the larger cities.”
”I know that we’re not immune from here, especially with the opioid epidemic. I think that’s probably going to be the root of most of the bad things I see,” projected Schrum, “because when kids have that for a need and the parents are weak that’s kind of the perfect cocktail for disaster.”
Although the body may be weak, the law is strong which is why Mountain Valley Hospice, the National Institute on Aging, Schrum and others agree that planning is important for individuals to retain their independence even as they become more dependent.
More information on advanced care planning, and other resources for caregivers and those concerned can be found at www.nia.nih.gov/health/caregiving/advance-care-planning.
Attorny Matt Schrum is available at Evergreen Estate Planning & Elder Law which is located at 1330 North Bridge Street or by calling 336-793-1938.
For more information about the Mountain Valley Advanced Care Planning Support Services contact Allison Hemrick in Surry County at firstname.lastname@example.org or in Yadkin County contact Allison Brown at email@example.com.
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TBeanieTaylor.